There are two main ways to experience the wild areas of Kenya. One is by doing a game drive through a conservancy or national park. The other is by getting down on the ground to understand the day to day activities that collectively build up to its success at a much personal level. Game drives give you the luxury to enjoy the view of wild animals with no regard for what actually happens in the background. A lot occurs without the clear knowledge of the visitors who visit protected areas. For instance, you may not understand the work done to protect wild animals from poachers until you interact with rangers. You may not know how a protected area operates with the community until you get down on the ground and understand how the community benefits from living with wildlife. A game drive only gives you the good side which most people enjoy, yet it does not give you the best.
Getting to see charismatic animals such as a pride of lions, a herd of elephants, a leopard and if you are lucky, a hunt, I must agree, is very fulfilling. But what would be the outcome when you got deeper into the engagements of the places that hold our national heritage, our pride as a country and understand why people from all across the world come to see Africa’s wilderness and why we should cherish our country more? Turnup.travel, a tour operator that seeks to introduce people to nature through their conservation travel packages, could not have come at a better time. A time when not many people actually understand the conservation aspects in Kenya. On the weekend of 25th – 26th of August 2018, I had the chance to join a fun and enlightened crew to explore the conservation realm at Ol Pejeta Conservancy.
Dogs are man’s best friend. Cliché, I know. But the dogs at Ol Pejeta are more than guards or/and pets. They are trackers, sniffers, and tough dogs. Dog tracking is being used in many protected areas in Africa today. With an amazing sense of smell, the breeds of Bloodhounds and Malinois at the conservancy are used to track and sniff out stolen goods such as cattle from the neighbouring community as well as even track a poacher.
I have always wanted to know the level of training such dogs undergo to be able to do such amazing work in aiding conservation efforts in Africa. The dogs are trained when they are just puppies. This gives them ample build up towards becoming dogs that are not only the best at being guard dogs, depending on training, but can sniff out contraband such as guns and track unwanted visitors easily. The dogs consider this part of their life like a game. See, if you have a dog and have tried training her/him, you very well know once they accomplish a specific task they get a reward. For the dogs at Ol Pejeta, once they catch a poacher or a cattle thief they get a reward. This keeps them motivated and excited for next time when they are called upon.
The best part of this particular experience is getting to see the dog in action.
For dogs to be part of protecting wild areas of Africa shows a level of willingness by conservancy owners and government to guard wildlife and even the communities that reside within or outside protected areas.
Remember Sudan, the last Male Northern White Rhino that we knew of? Well at the Ol Pejeta takeover with turnup.travel we got to have a moment, in fact, spent plenty of time with his daughter and granddaughter Najin and Fatu respectively joined by a Southern White Rhino, Tawo. When you are up close to this amazing creature, one thing is clear; you are in their space. You feel so small despite humans being the number one predator for such an iconic species.
The northern whites are next to extinction. Why? Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), absurd cultures and hunting have led to their numbers decreasing. At one point, rhinos roomed the earth peacefully, undisturbed. Then man discovered rhino horn, a substance made of a keratinous material, same substance as our fingernails, can cure cancer and other diseases. This has led to the species been poached and hunted to only 1258 rhinos in Kenya from more than 20,000 in the 1970’s. The rhino horns from Africa and other Asian countries which have rhinos such as the Javan and Indian rhino continued to see a decrease in the number of the species. All five rhino species are now critically endangered. What is more surprising is that people who buy rhino horn products are not aware that the species is killed for the product. There is the ideology that the horn is cut from the rhino as it is not harmed in the process. The demand for the rhino horn has also increased due to a rise in the economy of Asian countries such as China and Vietnam where individuals can now afford the previously prestigious product.
This is how you know even man’s inventions will actually not stand as massive as a rhino. Turnup Travel has partnered with Renault Kenya to explore Kenya’s beautiful landscapes. During the takeover, we had the opportunity to use the Duster, Sandero Stepway and the Kadjar Renault models. This was a great opportunity to convey my Field Worthy series in a very comprehensible way. The White Rhinos next to Renaults was surreal and reminded me of the fact that man has the great ability to create and destroy at the same time. Renault 4 x 4’s are such comfortable cars and definitely field worthy #PassionForLife. (Should I do a review on it? Let me know in the comment sections.)
Ol Pejeta Conservancy is currently the only conservancy that openly incorporates cattle with wildlife in their day to day activities. We had the chance to see how this is done and how they have aided in community conservation. The conservancy has more than 1000 cattle which are kept in selected around the conservancy. To cattle graze in designated areas during the day and at night they are kept in specific cattle bomas. These bomas are manually moved to prevent land degradation. This is an advanced model that is used among the pastoral communities in Kenya. This model prevents predators such as lions from attacking the herds at night.
Ol Pejeta Conservancy will give you the best opportunities to see chimpanzees. This is because chimpanzees are not endemic to Kenya. They are mostly found in Central and West Africa. However, the species is hunted for its meat, fur, hands and feet and trafficked to be used as pets. Chimps are highly abused when trafficked s they are kept in small cages and even beaten especially when they are older. Chimps are wild animals and even though they can be trained when they are young when they get older, their wild instincts kick in making them aggressive. This is normal in the wild but in human confinement, the species is abused because once released they can be of danger to humans.
The Chimpanzee Sanctuary was started by Jane Goodall who is a well-renowned primate research expert. The facility offers a home to trafficked chimps which have been rescued from their ‘sayed owners’. A close encounter with the chimps especially during feeding time will show you how similar to man the species is. Chimps are able to peel bananas just as we do and when you observe them you can notice how attentive they are to their surroundings. To think we are superior to other beings means we know nothing because we are yet to even understand the chimpanzee.
Baraka is a survivor. A conflict arises when you wonder whether to let a species with a disability to die naturally during a fight or give it their own space to thrive. In the human world, in most cases, a lot has been done in the Persons with Disability area. Animals with disability globally have also not been left behind. In a world where everyone is not born the same, such stories offer hope. Baraka’s story is uplifting and there is no need to actually write about it here. The best way would be to visit Ol Pejeta Conservancy and hear about his story from a personal level, where you can actually interact with him and understand why he has to be enclosed in own perimeter.
This would not be a better takeover without getting to be with the Northern Whites again. You know that saying everything happens as it is meant to happen? When we were told we could get to be with the northern whites again, who would say no. Najin, Sudan’s daughter, is a very peaceful animal. It is sad to actually know your children and grandchildren may actually not have the opportunity you are so fortunate to have.
Ol Pejeta Conservancy offers a chance to remember the fallen rhinos that have been killed in the conservancy. This is always a chance the remember the rhino which would have still roomed the savannahs of Laikipia were it not for human greed. This is a chance to actually identify what you can do even as an individual to prevent the loss of such an iconic species.
We continue to raise awareness that rhino horn is not medicine. Rhinos play a very critical role in the environment providing space for other species to thrive through their feeding habits as browsers (black rhinos because of their pointed mouths) and grazers (white rhino because of their wide mouth).
Whenever you want to experience Kenya in a very open-minded and with the added advantage to learn something about the species and wild areas that have been with us since the time of our ancestors, join a Turnup.Travel tour. You will not be disappointed. In fact, you will have wished you had a notebook. However, thank God for mobile devices and cameras, be sure to record everything. Only shutters, fast fingers and a wild spirit are needed.